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Jules Olitski

Russian-American Painter

Movement: Color Field Painting

Born: March 27, 1922 - Snovsk, Ukraine

Died: February 4, 2007 - New York, New York

Jules Olitski Timeline

Important Art by Jules Olitski

The below artworks are the most important by Jules Olitski - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Cleopatra Flesh (1962)
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Cleopatra Flesh (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: This "stain painting" exemplifies Olitski's early work as a member of the Color Field movement. To create its bold, simple composition, Olitski poured diluted paint onto a large canvas measuring nearly nine feet in height. The vibrant, unmodulated pigment has soaked into the fabric of the canvas; although there is no brushwork, the artist's hand is still evident in the carefully plotted arrangement of curved and circular shapes. Since the diluted polymer paints dried quickly, and no changes could later be made, the artist's handling of his medium needed to be skillful and purposeful.

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of G. David Thompson

Tin Lizzie Green (1964)
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Tin Lizzie Green (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: For the transitional works that fell between his early stain paintings and his well-known spray paintings, Olitski used rollers to apply very thin layers of paint to the canvas. This superimposition of colors resulted in varying effects of density - for example, the dark area at the top of the canvas where green overlaps red. The edges of the canvas were masked while the large fields of color were rolled onto the canvas. After uncovering those edges, the artist added a yellow streak to the left side and three colored dots along the right margin. This combination of techniques marked a newly experimental phase in his art. Olitski later remarked, "That the paintings I was doing with rollers, such as Tin Lizzie Green, would lead to the spray gun couldn't have been foreseen by me. But they did."

Alkyd and oil/wax crayon on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Patutsky in Paradise (1966)
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Patutsky in Paradise (1966)

Artwork description & Analysis: In his breakthrough works of 1965 through 1966, Olitski began using high-powered spray guns to apply paint to canvas. This technique produced seamless layers of sheer color that seem to flow into one another without any evidence of the artist's hand. In these works, Olitski's goal was to capture the effect of the pure color floating in the air, as though he were defying the limits of the two-dimensional canvas (and of gravity itself). The work's title refers to "Prince Patutsky," a nickname that Olitski's stepfather had given him in his childhood. Olitski used this name for several works of his works from the mid-1960s. Here, its juxtaposition with the word "paradise" and the painting's bright palette may indicate a feeling of pure joy, untethered to earthly difficulties.

Acrylic on canvas - Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario

Rephahim Shade - 2 (1974)
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Rephahim Shade - 2 (1974)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the mid-1970s, to the consternation of his previous supporters, Olitski abandoned his spray guns and vibrant colors in favor of a monochromatic palette and broad, gestural brushwork. Although his work of this period remained abstract, its dark, earthy tones and expressive paint application were inspired by his love of such European Old Masters as Rembrandt and El Greco. The title includes a Biblical reference: "Rephahim" (or "rephaim") is an ancient Hebrew word for the "shadows" or "shades" of the dead. Olitski may have thought that his ghostly layers of lighter and deeper tones resembled spirits caught within a chaotic darkness.

Acrylic on canvas - Private collection

Lives of Angels (1990)
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Lives of Angels (1990)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the later 1980s and early 1990s, Olitski reintroduced color into his work. Lives of Angels is painted in thick layers of iridescent acrylic paints. The shimmery gloss of the acrylic, in combination with the sweeping strokes of impasto, gives the completed painting a sense of movement and lush tactility. Olitski applied the paint not only with a brush but also with his own fingers (wearing a special mitt), so that his touch was literally present on the canvas. In some areas, the surface of the paint rises nearly an inch off the support. Despite an ongoing lack of support for his recent stylistic evolution, the artist was unrepentantly displaying his love of paint itself and of the play between color, light, and texture.

Acrylic on canvas - Olitski Family Estate

With Love and Disregard: Rapture (2002)
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With Love and Disregard: Rapture (2002)

Artwork description & Analysis: At the age of 78, Olitski painted a well-received series of paintings named With Love and Disregard (2002), in which he came full circle to the vivid colors and curvilinear forms of his 1960s Color Field canvases. However, the result was now raw and elemental, with crackled surfaces and harsh contrasts. During these late years, Olitski worked in a studio on Bear Island in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. Bear Island's rocky shore and dense forests, and its dramatic views of sunset and sunrise on the water, doubtlessly inspired Rapture's deliberate roughness and its juxtaposition of burning bright golds with deep blacks and blues. Once again, the artist had fearlessly combined his "love" for his medium with a "disregard" for the rules of art-making.

Acrylic on canvas - Private collection



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Jules Olitski Photo

Related Art and Artists

To Miz - Pax Vobiscum (1964)
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To Miz - Pax Vobiscum (1964)

Artist: Hans Hofmann

Artwork description & Analysis: Hofmann's first wife, Miz, was a constant support and companion to him for almost 60 years, and after her death he painted this vibrant canvas as a memorial. He used the relationship of bright colors to create shapes expressing his feelings of loss.

Oil on canvas - Collection Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Museum purchase

The Tilled Field (1923)
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The Tilled Field (1923)

Artist: Joan Miró

Artwork description & Analysis: Populated with complex, often inscrutable forms, The Tilled Field, with its puzzling iconography, is an abstract depiction of the landscape of Miró's Catalan homeland. The painting, teeming with organic forms that merge and meld seemingly in defiance of nature, is a testament to Miró's ever-increasing stylization and abstraction at this point in his career. The picture may be viewed as both an homage to Spain's past and a statement on the contemporary political upheaval in Europe. In works like this one, as well as works from the period leading up to and throughout World War II, Miro frequently expressed his own political sentiments. The painting also emphasizes how extremely radical Miró's departure was from his previous, naturalist style once he arrived in Paris and was exposed to the avant-garde art of that city where innovation thrived.

Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Canyon (1965)
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Canyon (1965)

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler

Artwork description & Analysis: The topographical features of the landscape often served as inspiration for Frankenthaler's abstract imagery. With its brilliant red wash filling most of the canvas, Canyon reflects the change in Frankenthaler's artistic practice introduced several years earlier, when she began replacing turpentine-thinned oil with watered-down acrylic poured in larger stains and blots. The painting's gentle luminosity evokes the art critic Nigel Gosling's 1964 description of Frankenthaler's work, written in connection with the artist's London gallery exhibition of that year: "If any artist can give us aid and comfort, Helen Frankenthaler can with her great splashes of soft colour on huge square canvases. They are big but not bold, abstract but not empty or clinical, free but orderly, lively but intensely relaxed and peaceful."

Acrylic on canvas - The Phillips Collection

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